Sunday, June 28, 2009

4th of July Tips for Pup Patriots

Dogs have very well-developed senses that we, as humans, don't utilize as much. On a daily basis, they smell and hear things we don't even notice. So it's easy to understand why the 4th of July can be an overwhelming holiday for a dog. For pups celebrating the holiday for the first time, it can be especially scary! Fireworks are a brand new, suspicious, extremely loud & stinky experience. Here are some things to try that might help make your dog's celebration a less stressful event:

*This is not the day to introduce your dog to the beach or boat for the first time. Keep your dog at home, in a familiar, quiet, comfy area. If your dog is happily crate trained, have his or her crate open and nearby for voluntary retreats. Remember that (for safety reasons) puppies should never have free reign of the home under any circumstances, but especially during stressful events. Use those baby gates, enjoy each other's company, and keep things cozy.

*Close drapes and blinds to help limit visual stimulus.

*Ideally, staying at home with your puppy during their first 4th is the best scenario, because you can set the tone for their introduction to the fireworks experience. Your vibe should be "I hear & smell it, too... no big deal..." In some neighborhoods, excited kids will break out mini-fireworks-previews prior to the 4th. These faraway sounds can actually be a helpful introduction. When your dog first hears the fireworks, he or she will look to you (the pack leader) for a reaction. If he or she observes fear, concern, or annoyance coming from you, your dog will naturally assume there is something to fear, be concerned about, or annoyed with. The best way to react is to stay calm, casually acknowledge that you heard the sound, too ("yep, fireworks...") and go about your business. Move on, end of focus...

*Resist the urge to "mommycomfort" ( picking your puppy up for cuddles, kisses & endless cooing "it's OK"s, you'll only draw focus to the fireworks.) Behaving like a calm, confident leader is the best way to give your dog any needed reassurance: just keep that "Thanks, I hear it, too... no biggie" vibe. Then move on...

*If you will be entertaining, make sure your dog still has her own calm, quiet area to either stay in, or to retreat to (such as her crate, pen, or bed, located in a room where she will not be bothered.) Even very social dogs can become overstimulated and tired, and will likely need some time to snooze or relax with a chew toy. Depending on your dog's temperament, this might also be a good time for friendly pups to practice learning that guests=good things: dogs should work for treats (give guests treats, and ask them to put your dog in a sit-stay, etc. before treating.) If your dog will be mingling, it's important to keep your dog with you throughout your event (this will help to avoid any potential escapes while guests are entering and exiting your home. If you feel this is not possible, you may want to put off entertaining until next year, when your dog will be better socialized and trained.) With respect to guests, remember that some children can be scarier than fireworks! If you'll have kids around, talk with them about how to behave around a dog they've never met before. Try to make it fun by helping to put the child in the dog's position: "How would you feel if strangers you never met before in your life (!) suddenly came up to you and started touching your face or patting you on the head?..." When you introduce your dog, praise positive kid behavior ("Good job letting Fido sniff your hand...I like how you're using gentle fingers..." etc. ) Never leave your dog unsupervised with visiting children (I recommend this for your dog's own safety, not just for the safety of the child...)

* If you'll be going out and leaving your dog alone, consider hiring a puppy sitter. Prep the sitter by explaining how you'd like them to react to the fireworks. Leave your puppy with a cozy sweatshirt or pillowcase that smells like you, and give your sitter treats to practice commands (and redirect any unwanted behavior.) Be sure your sitter clearly understands your puppy rules (regarding things such as scraps, feeding from the table, etc.) and the reasons behind them ("she has serious allergies," "doctor's orders," "it took us a whole year to train her not to..." etc.)

*As always, make sure your dog's area has been puppy-proofed (remove potentially dangerous cords, plants, etc., and be sure to pick up your people-clutter such as random shoes, socks, wrappers, pens and things.) When stressed or frightened, some dogs can suddenly become destructive, so you'll want to be especially sure your dog's area is safe and orderly.

*Give your dog a busy brain toy, and/or a favorite chew toy to focus on.

*Turn on the TV or radio at normal volume. These "normal" background sounds can be comforting. If you leave the TV on, check your program guide so you can be sure to tune into happy, non-scary programing (this means no reruns of COPS, or special holiday presentations of Saving Private Ryan...) As far as music goes, calm classical music is often a great option (and around this time of year there are usually lots of premade, quiet wedding music mixes available.)

*If you already know that your dog gets freaked out by loud noises like thunder, talk with your vet ahead of time for ways to help alleviate the fear and anxiety fireworks may likely cause. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe your dog an anti-anxiety drug, or recommend an over-the-counter, herbal-based, pet store-available alternative (supplements like Quiet Moments, Comfort Calm Doggie Bites, etc.) Another option is a product called Comfort Zone. It's a device you plug into an outlet, and it releases calming pheromones (they make a formula for cats, as well.)

*Do not leave your dog outside alone. Shelters overflow with dogs after the holiday weekend, due to lost "yard dogs" who get scared, escape, and run off in fear. Frightened chained dogs can become entangled in their chains. This can lead to really serious injury and even death.

*Make sure your pets are wearing id tags so if they do bolt, they can be returned easily. I always recommend that pets have id tags and get microchiped (in case the collar slips off while lost.)

~Hope you have a happy, stress-free 4th~

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